Update: here's a very good walk-through of setting up BIOS on Intel chipset motherboard for OCZ SSD RAID array.
Since I was about to clean up my system anyway, I decided not only to install Windows 7, but also bite the bullet and get two SSD drives and put them into striped RAID configuration. I did it last weekend and yes, rumors are true: the performance boost you get from SSDs, especially from RAID-0 SSDs is by far the most noticeable and exciting in a generation. (From this point on, spindle hard drives are entering their twilight years, and pretty soon they will be where CRT displays are now.) It's kind of perverse, but perf improvement is so drastic that it now takes less time for Windows to boot than for the motherboard to finish the POST!
Here are points that might be useful for those trying to do similar setup.
- Not every SSD drive can be used in RAID configuration. At this point you need to stick with SSD drives having Indilinx controller. 60GB MLC drives like OCZ Vertex, Corsair Extreme, and OCZ Agility (the one I got, see the review) - are all reasonably priced and will work well with mainstream motherboards-based RAID controllers, like Intel Matrix RAID. Two of these drives cost just a little over what single 128GB drive costs, but two 64GB drives give you two controllers, twice the amount of on the drive cache, and connection to two separate SATA channels, all of which delivers much better performance than a single 128GB drive for about the same amount of money.
- Windows 7 does have Intel Matrix RAID driver, so no need to do the F6 thing to load it during windows installation.
- If you are putting your drives into a desktop machine, you will need mounting brackets to fit 2.5" drives into 3.5" bays.
- Since both Windows 7 and SSD drives are relatively new products, load the latest BIOS for your motherboard before you even connect your drives for the first time. It's also a good idea to get a relatively recent motherboard and ensure your mobo does indeed have RAID functionality. For example, if your motherboard has Intel chipset, letter "R" in ICH10R "south bridge" chip name seems to indicate presence of RAID support.
- If your motherboard has Intel Matrix RAID, change BIOS settings to make sure you put your on-board SATA controller into RAID mode. It actually should be called AHCI+RAID, because RAID is still AHCI. Non-RAID SATA drives may still be used when SATA controller in RAID mode with no problem at all.
- Even though Windows 7 comes ready for SSD drives, tweaks like disabling SSD drive indexing will improve either drives' longevity or system performance. Also, Windows 7 may not see the RAID group as 100% SSD. What it means is that when Win7 realizes there is an SSD drive in the system, it's supposed to automatically turn off superfetch and disk defragmentation. In my case it did turn off disk defrag for my SSD RAID volume, but didn't turn off superfetch - maybe because I have a couple of regular hard drives also connected (although not members of the RAID array).
- If you wonder whether ATA Trim command (that helps to maintain SSD drives' performance) is going to work in RAID configuration, then the answer is not yet. Currently, the choices for SSDs connected to Intel matrix raid controller are either RAID, or TRIM, but not both together. The reason for that is Intel Matrix Storage Manager (MSM) driver does not pass through TRIM command - only MS SATA and IDE drivers for Windows 7 do. So for TRIM one needs to use Microsoft drivers, which do not support MSM RAID. So if you do RAID, you will need to use Intel MSM driver, and wait for some future version of MSM that can support TRIM in at least in RAID-0 and RAID-1 configurations.
- Next version of OCZ firmware for Agility and Vertex SSD drives is expected to have background "garbage collection" built in, which is supposed to reset NAND cells while drives are idling.
Here's a very good post about SSDs on Windows 7, plus an absolute must-read article about most popular SSD drives from AnandTech.com.
Take a look a all-important 4KB transfer rates (most common case for non-server scenarios) - it does astonishing 178MB/s writes and 180MB/s reads:
Compare it with 53MB/s writes and 35MB/s reads of $440-worth, fastest 120GB MLC drive - OCZ Vertex Turbo:
...or with arguably the best SSD drive there is - $800 Intel X-25E SLC drive - it does 104MB/s writes and 120MB/s reads on 4KB block size: